By Chris Lorway, Executive Director of Stanford Live and Bing Concert Hall

As we unveil this year’s program, we want to take you behind the scenes of how this season came to be. Our planning process focused not just on the art, but also on the ideas and influences behind the work you will see on stage. Stanford Live’s curatorial team (Laura Evans, Ryan Davis, and me) spent many months talking through various themes we felt resonated with artists and our community at this particular moment in history.

This curatorial process led to an exploration of the nature of identity—personal, artistic, and cultural—and how we search for it. Through a considerable variety of performances and genres, we bring you a season that weaves together ideas about nationhood, pluralism, and nostalgia.



The journey to our exploration of identity began with three separate ideas. First, as a recent transplant from Canada, I’ve found myself observing how my newfound home defines itself through its artistic voices. Through a historical exploration of America’s cultural heritage—from Charles Ives and Duke Ellington to living national treasures Darlene Love and John Williams—the season looks at how tradition and collective memory shape national character. We also mark the centenary of Leonard Bernstein, who—as educator, collaborator, activist, and musical populist—articulated so much of the “American Century” through music.


The Canadian-born indigenous music icon Buffy Sainte-Marie opens the season on Sept. 22


The outlines of America’s national identity, however, become more defined through a global perspective. I can’t help but wonder how our two countries’ melting pot vs. multiculturalist attitudes to immigration impact the way we make art and tell stories. Our coming season features artists that tell the story of Canada alongside America, including indigenous music icon Buffy Sainte-Marie, first-generation actor/director Ravi Jain (and his mom, Asha), and one of today’s most important social and political commentators, Samantha Bee. (Given that Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017, it seemed like an opportune time to shine a light on some of the country’s best.) Artists from beyond North America—such as Bangladeshi-English choreographer Akram Khan and the Stradivarius Ensemble of Russia’s Mariinsky Orchestra—round out a sampling of international counterpoints that suggest other ways of establishing and questioning national identity through artistic expression.


Valery Gergiev leads the Stradivarius Ensemble of Russia’s Mariinsky Orchestra


Finally, throughout the season we look at the recent role that nostalgia has played in shaping identity and influencing culture. The word “nostalgia” often conjures up positive memories from the past and attaches to powerful moments in the stories of our selves. In many cases, these moments are steeped in musical interventions—the song that was playing when you had your first kiss or the first LP/tape/CD you owned. While some artists help us escape back to that happy place, others like Taylor Mac and Penny Arcade will challenge the idea of nostalgia as a positive force. Fierce creative expressions, like the poetic conscience of Claudia Rankine or a folk-punk reenactment of the Ukrainian Revolution, will contest nostalgia’s regressive tendencies head-on. But as nostalgia narratives shift over time, social commentators Chuck Klosterman and Simon Reynolds will rethink the retrospective forces at work in pop culture and music and reexamine the supposedly seminal moments in our collective histories.


Taylor Mac's A 24-Decade History of Popular Music decodes our social history through song

In addition to the artists highlighted above, we have selected additional events— performances, speakers, films, etc.—that represent these ideas and provide additional context. The curatorial process was also informed by a review of the latest literature and through discussions with Stanford faculty and other leading academics, colleagues, and artists. This season would not be possible without the help of Helen and Peter Bing ‘55 for funding a Distinguished Artists Fund to bring some of these artists to Stanford. 

Throughout the website you’ll find pop-up commentary by the season’s curators sharing some of the ideas behind selecting certain performances and thoughts on how they contribute to the expansive themes that this season as a whole will explore. These personal reflections, we hope, represent windows into this season’s design, as well as invitations into its creative conversations.

Inspired by our season’s inquiry into the ways our identities take shape in the space between the retrospection of nostalgia and the speculative imaginings of hope, we invite you to explore the season not only by genre or chronology, but also three sections that suggest an experience of time’s progress: Past as Prologue includes performances that masterfully reexamine classical and traditional repertoires as the foundations for nationalistic or nostalgic sentiments. Living Memory offers performances that revisit the musical innovations and aspiring spirit that gave the 20th century its voice. Longing Forward gathers performances and talks that encourage us to reconsider the tug of sentimental longings for golden ages lost and to envision new, more inclusive ways to remember and to enact common identity.

Thank you for joining us on this journey.

Click here to view Stanford Live's full 2017–18 season calendar.